I was raised in Alaska where, whether they knew it or not, the locals showed me that women could be capable, smart, strong and self-sufficient. Capable of not only overcoming, but also of triumph.
In my community, women shod their own horses, felled their own trees and built their own homes. I saw all of that. And I also saw a single father who cooked and cleaned and who taught me to train horses and split logs and turn my sweat and effort into tangible things—things I built and accomplished.
I loved working with the cattle, while my brother often enjoyed the indoor chores instead. That meant a pretty amazing thing happened: I made it through puberty with no conception of traditional gender roles.
It also meant that, although I had a difficult upbringing (my mom left our family at 8 and my father was abusive), I realized early on that I was capable by doing things for myself. I learned I had value, even if I didn’t have a family system that told me as much. This gave me confidence, and I think it’s what gave me the courage to move out at 15, to put myself through school.
For some inexplicable reason, and against all odds, when push came to shove, I believed in myself.
Which brings me to gender equality. Gender equality is a complex topic, but there is a simple truth behind it: Women should not believe they are a lesser form of human, with lesser rights.
As I said in May, while at the United Nations gathering about its new effort called “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” women should get equal pay for equal work. Women should be raised by fathers who encourage their daughters to change tires, speak up and challenge any idea they see fit. Women should be raised to know that, to succeed in the workplace, they need not become masculine and “one of the guys.”
Being a woman of balanced feminine energy—yes, I’m calling out the backstabbers and gossips who turn on their sisters—is an asset. Our femininity need not be a deterrent to overcome but an advantage.
In America, we see women on TV and in movies as they gyrate with a pumped-up generic bravado that has all the subtlety of a hit to the head. They claim their coolness with casual sex on social media—all while waving the banner of feminism. It’s gotten to the point that I must dare pose the question: Are we simply trying to hack empowerment by embracing what we hate about chauvinists? I’m all for sexuality and the freedom to express and explore it—I’m all for not having to shy away from our curves or from dating openly in order to be taken seriously, but surely we can do it in a way that comes from our guts and with more originality than it does from internalizing a counterfeit idea of what we think men in this century think is sexy.
Instead of focusing on and perpetuating these portrayals of women, we need to create laws to protect the safety, health and dignity of women around the world. We need to teach our boys and our men not to be fearful of a woman who knows her power. We need to teach them not to hold women down or try to control them or their sexuality.
We need to make sure girls feel the world is a safe place to grow and thrive in. To teach our daughters that they have worth and value beyond service to their families if they so desire. Let our girls grow up to be who they naturally are—strong, intuitive, capable, empathetic—with every skill it takes to succeed in this world.
Also: Everyone should read this article by Jane Fonda on Lenny about the nuances of her own journey toward feminism. It is a lovely read.
Jewel is an award-winning singer and songwriter and the author of her memoir, Never Broken.
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